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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Food for Thought

Shanti1111 Dorchester Ave.617.929.3900www.shantiboston.com

Many people I talk to are intimidated by Indian food. The menu items seem so foreign, the spice combinations beyond comprehension. There was a time when I would glance at an Indian menu and move on to something more familiar. Luckily, there was one time when I did not have a choice about where to eat. Once was all it took, I had become a devout convert ready to stand on street corners and expound on the virtues of the cuisine that had enlightened my taste buds in a single evening.

While your experience may not be so ethereal, I assure you that Indian cuisine is not only a joy to your own senses, but a great way to show a date that you are worldly and educated in the finer points of dining.

Close to UMass and open 7 days a week for lunch and dinner, Shanti’s Dorchester location is perfect for a quick bite to eat in the middle of the day, or for a slow meal over a great conversation. The all-you-can-eat buffet at Shanti is not the deal of the month at $7.99, but it does make for a great lunch and is a good way to try many of the different dishes that the restaurant has to offer for significantly less than the cost of a full dinner.

The décor of natural reds and browns in Shanti’s dining room is augmented by miscellaneous knick-knacks of ambiguous origin. The tables set with cloth and woven tapestries under glass are cheapened by the paper place mats, but the Tiffany style lighting rounds out the imbalance to create an atmosphere that could be called homely, but would be more aptly described as thrown together.

On my recent excursion to the restaurant there were several other diners enjoying a quiet lunch to the soft pulsing of South Asian Pop. The service was attentive and courteous, but being a buffet, the wait staff really only needed to keep the water glasses topped off. My choice of Channa Saag, a mixture of chick peas and spinach, was heavy and oily, augmented with an over-abundance of salt and brought to a perfect finish by enough spice to render the remaining flavors of the dish indistinguishable between large bites of Naan bread that was dry and stale. Turning my sights to the Begun Bharta, a roasted eggplant dish, I discovered even more oil than I’d thought possible. The oil aside, the dish was a great mix of flavors and if it had not sat in the heated buffet pan for too long, it would probably have been perfect.

Slowly easing my taste buds back into order after the first dish, I moved on to the eggplant Pakoras, battered and fried fritters that were surprisingly light and very flavorful. Though I was beginning to wonder about whether the owners had come into an inheritance of eggplants, I was nonetheless enjoying myself.

The buffet also offered Aloo Begun, potatoes and eggplant, which was light, subtle and perfectly spiced. Eaten with the saffron-infused basmati rice that was naturally in abundance, this dish made up for some of the other gastronomic shortcomings.

Also in the category of making up for past digressions was the Gulab Jamun, a deep fried pastry in rose water. This is a dessert that I’m usually not very fond of, as every time I’ve had this dish, it has been dense and overly sweet. Surprisingly, Shanti’s version of this classic Indian dessert was light, airy and just sweet enough. By the time I had finished my dessert, all was forgiven and I was truly satisfied.

Of course, most restaurant reviews don’t offer too much information about the restrooms in a given establishment, but the ones at Shanti are just too cool to go unmentioned. Wooden pedestals with tea lights on a bed of red lentils, painted cloth images, folded cloth hand towels, wicker baskets and the coolest faucet fixture I’ve ever seen make their bathroom worth a visit. If as much thought had gone into the décor of the dining room, eating at this restaurant would be a great experience. As it stands though, it’s still pretty damn good.